Stranger Things season 3 left a lot of questions and mysteries that are waiting to be solved in season 4, and one of those is who is the American prisoner in Russia mentioned in the mid-credits scene. Fans of the series have come up with a bunch of theories and explanations on who the prisoner really is, with some believing it’s a character from season 1 confirmed to be alive, and others convinced it’s a certain character that didn’t really die at the end of season 3.
Truth is that the identity of the American will continue to be a mystery until Stranger Things season 4 arrives, and it’s unlikely the team behind the series will let something slip beforehand – but they can totally drop some cryptic clues, as they usually do. For now, it’s up to viewers to try to figure out who the prisoner is, and there are some interesting candidates already, though some are more convincing than others.
As much as Stranger Things fans would like to see characters such Barb, Bob, and Alexei come back, even if that means being imprisoned by the Russians, they don’t qualify because viewers actually saw them die. The American prisoner doesn’t necessarily have to be a character presumed dead; it can also be one that is known to be alive, unharmed, and that likes to investigate. Here are the potential candidates.
One of the most common theories says that Hopper is the prisoner, which gives viewers a lot of hope for his return to Hawkins and reunion with Eleven. The theories are supported by the fact that Hopper’s body – or what could have been left of it – wasn’t shown or found at all, and that by a split second after Joyce closed the gate, Hopper wasn’t where he was supposed to be. It’s unclear if the mid-credits scene takes place after the events on the final episode of the season (and if so, how long after) or if they happened simultaneously, so how Hopper got there could depend on that.
Many theories say Hopper found a way out at the last second by jumping through the gate and into the Upside Down. If so, he could have been found there by the Russians and taken prisoner. Others argue that the gate could have sent him straight to the base in Kamchatka, as the Russians are conducting similar experiments on the Upside Down there. One of the many mysteries of the Stranger Things universe is how the Upside Down works, with some believing it could serve as a portal, making it possible for Hopper to end up on the other side of the world as the Russians opened a portal themselves. As exciting as having Hopper as the prisoner sounds, it would be an easy way out for the writers and would actually end up being a bit disappointing.
Dr. Martin Brenner
Another popular theory says that the prisoner is Dr. Brenner. “Papa” was believed to be dead by the end of season 1 after being attacked by the Demogorgon, but it was later confirmed that he’s alive, somewhere. Brenner appeared in season 2 as an illusion created by Kali and was completely absent from season 3, so it’s about time viewers learn what happened to him. Brenner as the American prisoner makes sense as the Russians know enough about the Upside Down to travel specifically to Hawkins, open gates in both places, and capture Demogorgons – and all of this could be possible with the help of Brenner.
Just like with Hopper, how Brenner could have ended up in Kamchatka is unknown. The answer could be in the Upside Down, especially because the last time viewers saw him he was being attacked by the Demogorgon, so the creature could have dropped him there at some point. Others suggest that he simply changed sides, as Russia would have been a safer place for him given everything that happened in Hawkins. Having Brenner working for the Russians fits with everything Stranger Things built in season 3, answers the questions about how the Russians know about the Upside Down, how to access it, and how to control a Demogorgon, and makes way for Brenner to come back as the human villain for season 4.
Murray survived the events in season 3, but Stranger Things left a little gift for fans semi-hidden in one episode. When Hopper decided they should call Dr. Owens, Joyce left a message along with Murray’s phone number in case they needed to get back to them. This phone number is actually in service and has a recorded message from Murray. The first part is directed at his mom, and the second at Joyce. In it, he says he has an update that it’s not good or bad “but it’s something”, and it’s best if they speak in person. This has led fans to believe Murray figured out where Hopper is, but no matter what the “update” is, Murray got too involved on the mission to expose the Russians, and they could be watching his every move now.
Perhaps Murray discovered more details on the experiments or something that could compromise what the Russians are doing, and it’s possible that they caught the message Murray left for Joyce. As mentioned above, it’s unknown when exactly the mid-credits scene took place, so Murray could have been taken prisoner by the Russians because he knows “too much” – and given that he speaks English and Russian, and knows a lot about Hawkins and the experiments at Hawkins Lab, it makes sense that the Russians wouldn’t feed him to the Demogorgon, at least not yet.
Sure, Billy’s dead body was shown on screen just like Barb, Bob, and Alexei’s, but the key to Billy possibly being the American is early on in season 3. When Billy came across with the Mind Flayer, he was briefly shown in the Upside Down, coming face to face with a clone of himself. Now, this could go two ways, the first one being that this clone switched places with the real Billy, thus the latter is still trapped in the Upside Down. Some fans support this idea with the fact that Billy, unlike the rest of the Mind Flayer’s victims, never melted into a goo to “feed” or “build” the creature. Therefore, the Billy that sacrificed himself was a clone, and the real one was captured by the Russians (again, the Upside Down works in mysterious ways).
The other side of this idea is that it was the real Billy (as the clone was just an illusion or a visual metaphor), and he never became one with the creature because he was the Mind Flayer’s mole. This role granted him healing abilities, as the Mind Flayer needed him to be unharmed for as long as needed, which ended up backfiring when the creature attacked him. This side of the story would see Billy healing after the rest of the group is gone and as the Russians arrive to clear the place. Given his connection with the Mind Flayer, he could be of use for the Russians at the Kamchatka base, and that’s why they are keeping him. However, bringing Billy back would hurt his moment of redemption at the end of season 3, and that’s a risky move even for the writers of Stranger Things.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that the American prisoner is a new character, maybe even someone from Hawkins Lab that wasn’t introduced to viewers before. Stranger Things season 4 doesn’t have a projected release date yet, so fans have a lot of time to kill and to come up with new theories and ideas. Hopefully, the wait will be worthy and the series will answer this and other mysteries as well.